WE should have to go back to Richardson's Clarissa for a story which is as original, as coherent, as much a product of its age, as elaborate, and as full of one vivid and impressive woman's character, as Marcella. Indeed there is, with all the immeasurable differences between the two books, a very considerable and interesting analogy in the type of genius which these two books display. They both of them concen- trate all their power on the central character, and yet devote hardly less to the character of the man whose vivid, and redundant, and in some respects fascinating, elasticity of nature provides the central character with the conditions for its full expression. Of course, Mrs. Ward's Wharton displays vices very different indeed from those of Richard- son's Lovelace ; but there is the same buoyancy, the same restless persistency, the same uncontrollable energy in each, and there is the same intensity in the straggle between the woman's character and the man's abounding and im- perious purpose. Let us add that there is the same un- subdued and unsubdnable didactic feeling at the bottom of the two stories, the same elaborateness of study, and if not the same, at least when allowance is made for the very
• Marcella. By Mrs. Hnmphry Ward. 3 vols. London : Smith, Elder, and Co.
different intellectual and moral conditions of the age, a very similar predominance of the determination to make the teach- ing of the book clear and effective. No doubt Mrs., Ward has the advantage over Richardson in the variety of her resources. There is nothing in Clarissa to compare with the skill and brilliance of the village life depicted in Marcella. On the other hand, there is nothing in Clarissa to compare with the stodginess, we are afraid we must call it, for we know no better name, of the " retarding element," as Schiller and Goethe agreed to call it, which delays the consummation of the plot from the latter part of the second volume and throughout billy half of the third, in Marcella. We confess to having been supremely bored by Mr. Hallin, the subordinate Labour Members, and by the disquisitions on Ventnrism and Socialism, in this part of Mrs. Ward's book. Her determination to im- prove the reader, to show how fully she understands the Socialist controversy, and how determined she is that her readers shall understand her understanding of it, is even more pertinacious than Richardson's determination to exhibit the licentiousness of man and the imperious purity of woman. Mrs. Ward is not content with bringing the reader to appre- ciate fully the struggle in Marcella's mind. She is deter- mined to place him at her own ostentatiously scientific point of view ; and the reader, of course, sometimes kicks against the pricks.
Nevertheless, Marcella is a very powerful book. To us the character of the heroine is perhaps a little too ambitions and self-willed for the highest kind of attractiveness. The love in her is cold compared with the passionate devotion to a cause ; and that cause is so complicated with the delight of making her own personal influence supreme, that one often hardly knows whether to respect or condemn the sacrifices she makes for the poor and the wretched. But this difficulty in pene- trating her true character,—a difficulty which she herself feels as profoundly as the reader,—is one of the greatest triumphs of the book. She is as consistent with herself, and yet as hard to interpret, as any of the most original characters in real life. One is never tired of her, though often tired of the superfluous evidence given of her tenacity and thoroughness of purpose. We fully understand poor Minta Hurd's weariness of her idealism, and desire to throw off the embarrassment of her tenacious kindness and elaborate sympathy. But none the less so long as Mar- cella is herself, and does not expatiate or induce others to expatiate at large on the problems of the day, she is always interesting and impressive. We can understand far better Aldons Raeburn's passion for her, than her ultimate sur- render to Aldous Raeburn. She is always brilliant. Indeed Mrs. Hnmphry Ward never makes her women mere abstract ideals. Bnt when she comes to paint men she always suc- ceeds best with the least perfect. Robert Elsmere was a shadow—Aldons Raeburn is a heavy and industrious lover. David Grieve might have been made interesting if Mrs. Ward would have frankly confessed his conceit and priggishness, and not tried to make him out less capricious and more noble than he really was. It is the same with Mr. Hallin, of whom Mr. Disraeli would cer- tainly have said that he was not redeemed by a single vice. All the fire of Mrs. Ward's genius is given to the delineation of the buoyant, the self• seeking, the unscrupulous, the brilliant Wharton. She has left her hero in the darkness of a consum- mate virtue and a romantic reserve, perhaps in order to excuse her heroine for being so slow to appreciate his rather obscure heroism. Mrs. Ward, though she only provides us with one fine masculine portrait,—Mr. Boyce, however, is a vivid but a slight sketch,—abounds in happy feminine portraits. Lady Winter- bourne is admirable. We see her shyness, her awkwardness, her inability to justify her privileges as one of the rich, her enthusiasm for those who are bolder than herself in suc- couring and identifying themselves with the poor, and her exquisite refinement, as vividly as any of Miss Austen's best characters. And the study of Betty Macdonald is delightful and,—what Mrs. Ward's sketches very seldom are,—airy. There is none of that too deep etching of the lines of her character which sometimes makes Mrs. Ward's finest studies so unduly emphatic, so Rembrandt-like. Betty Macdonald shares with Wharton the great merit of buoyancy, and buoyancy is one of the rarest of the qualities of the greater fictitious studies. The woman's character which, after Marcella's, seems to be intended to be most impressive, but
which we understand least, is that of Mrs. Boyce. Evidently our author piques herself upon the sketch; but why, being what she is, she neglected her daughter so deliberately, and yet abounded in an almost extravagant fidelity to a bad and selfish husband, it is not easy to say. We suppose it mint be interpreted as indicating a deep vein of caprice in her character, but if so, that intention is not adequately embodied in the study. Mrs. Boyce's anxious indifference to her child is never made intelligible. It is not explained in its relation to the great pride and other failings of her strong character.
We cannot adequately illustrate this book by short passages. But we must give some evidence of the great, force and skill with which Mrs. Ward has painted the life of the village of Mellor, in which Marcella serves her apprenticeship to the cause of the poor. All the figures in that village that are painted at all are well painted. But Mrs. Jellison, the shrewd, rustic, high-spirited woman, who distrusts so profoundly the amateur charities of the rich, and prefers the skin-flint employer whose character she thoroughly understands, to the generous em- ployers whose goodness she regards as both capricious and, by its very origin, insecure, because it is not rooted in sound selfishness, is perhaps the best. Here is her frank avowal of the relief which her husband's death had been to her :—
"'Well, you don't seem to mind getting old, Mrs. Jellison,' said Marcella, smiling at her. The eyes of all the old people round their tea-table were by now drawn irresistibly to Miss Boyce in the chimney corner, to her slim grace, and the splendour of her large black hat and feathers. The new squire's daughter had so far taken them by surprise. Some of them, however, were by now in the second stage of critical observation—none the less critical because furtive and inarticulate.—' Ah ? ' said Mrs. Jellison interrogatively, with a high, long-drawn note peculiar to her. Well, I've never found you get forrarder wi snarlin over what you can't help. And there's mercies. When you've had a husband in his bed for fower year, miss, and he's took at last, you'll know.'—She nodded emphatically. Marcella laughed.= I know you were fond of him, Mrs. Jellison, and looked after him very well too.'—' Oh, I don't say nothing about that,' said Mrs. Jellison hastily. But all the same you kin reckon it up, and see for yoursen. Fower year—an' fire upstairs, an' fire downstairs, an' fire all night, an' soomthin allus wanted. An' he such an objeck afore he died ! It do seem like a holiday now to sit a bit.' And she crossed her hands on her lap with a long breath of con- tent. A lock of grey hair had escaped from her bonnet, across her wrinkled forehead, and gave her a half-careless, rakish air. Her youth of long ago—a youth of mad spirits, and of an extraordinary capacity for physical enjoyment—seemed at times to pierce to the surface again, even through her load of years. But in general she had a dreamy, sunny look, as of one fed with humorous fancies, but disinclined often to the trouble of communicating them."
Marcella herself cannot be effectually illustrated from any single passage ; her character is too complex, and it grows upon you from the opening to the end. But here is Wharton's reverie after the excitement of his first love-scene with her,— a passage which indeed suggested to us the analogy between him and Richardson's Lovelace, essentially different as these figures no doubt are :-
"' Once ! ' she heard him whisper. ' Once ! Then nothing more—for ever.'—And stooping, slowly, deliberately, he kissed her. In a stinging flow, life, shame, returned upon her. She struggled to her feet, pushing bim from her.= You dared,' she said, dared such a thing !'—She could say no more ; but her attitude, fiercely instinct, through all her physical weakness, with her roused best self was speech enough. He did not venture to approach her. She walked away. He heard the door close, hurrying steps on the little stairs, then silence. He remained where she had left him, leaning against the latticed wall for some time. When he moved it was to pick up a piece of maidenhair which had dropped from her dress.—' That wag a scene ! ' he said, looking at it, and at the trembling of his own hand. It carries one back to the days of the Romantics. Was I Alfred de Musset ?—and she George Sand ? Did any of them ever taste a more poignant moment than I—when she—lay upon my breast ? To be helpless—yet yield nothing—it challenged me ! Yet I took no advantage—none. When she looked—when her eye, her soul, was, for that instant, mine, then !—Well !—the world has rushed with me since I saw her on the stairs ; life can bring me nothing of such a quality again. What did I say ? —how much did I mean ? My God ! how can I tell ? I began as an actor, did I finish as a man P He paced up and down, thinking ; gradually, by the help of an iron will quieting down each rebellious pulse. That poacher fellow did me a good turn. Dare ! the word galled. But, after all, what woman could say less ? And what matter ? I have held her in my arms, in a setting—under a moon—worthy of her. Is not life enriched thereby beyond robbery? And what harm ? Raeburn is not injured. She will never tell—and neither of us will ever forget.'" The book is certainly a memorable one; and, but for the noble and almost unsurpassable picture of Catherine in Robert Elsmere, the best, we should say, of Mrs. Ward's stories.
The tragedy of the gamekeeper's murder is a magnificent episode. If our author would but keep a strong curb on her didactic passion, and, content with having written the stodgy elements for her own personal satisfaction, ultimately exclude them, she would have made her story nearly perfect. But even as it is, it will take a great place in the novels of the century, as she has engraved the characteristic features of our day in indelible characters upon her work.